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Dr. Michelle Watson

Dr. Michelle Watson is founder of The Abba Project, a forum that equips dads of daughters to dial into their hearts with more intention and consistency, and author of Dad, Here’s What I Really Need from You: A Guide for Connecting with Your Daughter’s Heart. In addition to her love of painting and attempts as a wannabe runner, she does her best to embody her hometown motto, “Keep Portland Weird” by collecting navels of oranges ... for no particular reason!

Have you ever jumped into a project in your church, only to later realize that it ended up being much different than you had anticipated? Now that we’ve all echoed a resounding “yes” we can collectively breathe a sigh of relief knowing we’re not alone.

Last year I experienced this scenario in living color. It was only after enthusiastically accepting a speaking invitation at a church leadership conference in my home state of Oregon that I realized I had bitten off more than I could chew. The title assigned to me was “re-engaging fathers in the church.” It sounded good in theory … until I started to put pen to paper. That’s when it hit me that I have neither experience nor knowledge regarding how to re-engage fathers in the church!

Before you start thinking that the conference coordinator had assigned the wrong person to this topic, here’s the brief backstory. Seven years ago I started a group forum in my home for fathers of daughters called The Abba Project. The idea came on a random December morning when I was reading in Luke 1 about God telling Zechariah that his son John would help turn the hearts of fathers to their children. That’s when God seemed to whisper and say, “Michelle, that’s what I want you to do.” A month later ten fathers were sitting with me eagerly learning how to be better dads to their daughters.

I’m guessing you just caught the piece that bypassed me when I accepted the speaking invitation. I engage fathers in my home counseling office, not in the church. How had I missed that piece?

That’s when the panic set in. But God’s kindness rescued me and soon after I was surrounded by a team of seasoned experts (one female and ten male leaders: pastors, authors, influencers). I then wove together their feedback with my own insights and God miraculously gave me a message on re-engaging fathers in the church.

There’s a lot I can say on this topic but the core essence of my message is this: Dads Matter. And they matter a lot.

My goal here is to share ideas that I trust will enhance the way you involve fathers, when possible, in your ministry or organization. Why? Because kids thrive when dads actively invest in their lives.

That said, here is my Top 10 List of Why Dads Matter, followed with ideas and action plans to enhance your effectiveness as you lead and love kids.

1.    God says that dads matter.
The infamous verse that underscores the value God places on fathers is found in Malachi 4:6 where He says that if the hearts of fathers don’t turn toward their children, and vice versa, He will come and strike the land with a curse. We don’t have to look very far to see how broken our land is where father-child relationships are concerned, do we? Our hearts break when we read statistics citing that:

One out of three kids in America live in homes without a biological father.

More than 24 million children lack the physical presence of a father in their home.

According to 72% of the U.S. population, fatherlessness is considered the most significant family or social problem facing America.

I believe God’s heart breaks over this reality. So should ours.

Leader Awareness Idea: A significant percentage of those we’re ministering to are lacking a father, highlighting the need to recruit and equip male volunteers and staff to bridge the father gap so healthy male role models can invest when Dad isn’t available.

2.    Kids who feel connected to their dad are stronger, healthier, and happier.
It is absolutely mind-blowing to consider the massive impact fathers have on their kids, a factor that should ignite our passion to strategically equip dads in their role. Research confirms that kids who feel connected to their fathers:

Do better in school—get better grades, are more likely to finish high school, plus attend college

Experience greater self-esteem

Have less body dissatisfaction and healthier weights

Report less depression

Have lower substance use rates

Delay having premarital sex/decreases in teen pregnancy

Have significantly less suicide attempts 

Leader Awareness Idea: If that doesn’t speak volumes about why it’s a good idea to get dads involved in your ministry, I don’t know what does!

3.    What a dad believes matters more to kids than outside influences.

We all know that peer pressure is powerful. Yet surprisingly, did you know that the spiritual life of a father (and mother) has more influence on his children than anyone outside the home? Search Institute conducted a survey years ago of 3,121 kids between grades seven and twelve, and every single age said that Mom ranked first and Dad second as the most significant religious influencer in their lives. Even friends and pastors ranked far lower than parents!

Leader Awareness Idea: Regardless of a dad’s faith persuasion or practice, more is caught than taught. Kids will emulate what they see lived out in front of them. Our role is to equip and empower. What are we doing to actively equip and empower fathers to lead, grow, and succeed?

4. If a dad chooses Jesus, his family will too.

One study reports that if a child is first in the family to come to faith, there’s a 3.7% chance the rest of the family will too. If Mom is first, there’s a 17% probability the rest of the family will come along. But if Dad is first to follow Jesus, there’s a 93% likelihood that the rest of the family will follow his lead. This invites the question:  Are we as leaders creating an environment where dads are welcomed to participate and provided opportunities to contribute by using their unique skill sets? Every single leader I interviewed said that involving dads in the spiritual lives of their children is vital and important. 

Leader Awareness Idea: If men are asked to serve in areas where they may lack confidence (for instance, verbal/relational skills, spiritual leadership, etc.), they will often be reluctant. It is, therefore, our responsibility to find creative ways to engage them and ease them out of their comfort zone.

5.   Kids internalize their dad’s view of them.

The way a father sees his children becomes intertwined with the way they see themselves. When a dad lights up upon seeing his daughter and says, “You look pretty today” or to his son with, “You’re a hard worker,” those words take deep root in his child forever. And the converse is true. When Dad’s angry, harsh words deliver a blow, spirits are wounded. As leaders we can’t cancel out negative words spoken by Dad, but imagine the power of a male (or female) volunteer or minister whose words affirm and validate inherent worth. They will go a long way toward heart healing.

Leader Awareness Idea: Let’s educate fathers on the power of their words to hurt or heal while modeling the positive impact to children when words of life are spoken.

6.    Dads provide a template by which kids navigate all other relationships.

If Dad is loving and kind, kids more easily move towards trusting others. But if Dad is critical, harsh, or demanding, kids often create self-protective walls that not only keep others away, but lead to more isolation, depression, and weak interpersonal skills. The good news is that those wounds can heal in the context of relationship, both with healthy others (which includes us) and the triune God.

Leader Awareness Idea: As you interact with kids in your ministry and watch their interpersonal skills, be aware that their interactions reflect what’s being modeled at home, often with Dad. No matter their story, you can be a vessel through which Father God works.

7. When a daughter feels her dad’s love, she doesn’t need to look for love in all the wrong places.

As those who are on the front lines of ministry, we have the privilege of being entrusted with stories about heart hurts, even from dads. Recently a woman wrote me: “Being a daughter who received too little love, attention, and affection from my father, I have a yearning to get affection, attention, and love from father figures and other guys. How do I overcome this?” This woman’s story serves as a reminder that when dads are absent, the gaping holes in a girl’s heart make her vulnerable to negative influences while craving romantic attention.

Leader Awareness Idea: Though we can’t replace Dad specifically, we can look into the eyes of girls and affirm their worth, value, character, beauty, and individual uniqueness. Let’s be conduits of our Father God’s love to a generation of girls who need us to be mirrors who reflect truth as He sees them.

8. When a son feels his dad’s respect, he thrives in knowing he’s strong and competent.

To illustrate, 50-year-old Mike recently shared, “The thing I notice most with not having a dad around was the lack of confidence I was never given. It angers me that I was robbed of that ability and security.” I reminded him that his Abba Father can give to him what he didn’t get as a kid and that means he isn’t forever living with a deficit.

Leader Awareness Idea: Though we can’t replace Dad, we can look into the eyes of boys and affirm their worth, value, character, strength, and individual uniqueness. Let’s be conduits of our Father God’s love to a generation of boys who need us to be mirrors who reflect truth as He sees them.

9. Time with Dad brings balance to a child’s life.
During a recent baby dedication at my church I watched a young mother trying to hold her infant son despite his fierce squirming and pushing against her. Finally, she handed him off to his father and immediately the little guy settled down in his dad’s arms. What a poignant reminder that a dad’s presence in his child’s life not only settles them, but provides balance and steadiness? Yes, a mom brings these gifts as well, but highlighting them will be for another day!

Leader Awareness Idea: Could it be that with more fathers involved as a base in our ministries that there would be similar grounding, settling, and strengthening that would come to children under our care?

10.  Dads provide a template for relating to God as a Father.

Over the past 35 years as a counselor, mentor, and speaker, I’ve heard story after story of father wounds and father voids … from both men and women. I’m guessing that you have too. But it wasn’t until I started The Abba Project that I realized with renewed clarity that our earthly dads provide the most powerful template for how we view God as a Father. As my friend John MacMurray says, “The reason that fatherhood is breaking down is because we’ve spent millennia not connecting with the real Father.” Kids will heal by connecting with their real Dad.

Leader Awareness Idea: As we listen to kids’ stories about their dads, whether positive or negative, we have the distinct privilege of introducing and leading them to God as their Father, Dad, and Healer. 

I would encourage you to choose one item in this list above and make it your priority this week to activate in your ministry.

Tell a dad how much he matters to his kids.

Write a note to a dad or any male volunteers to underscore their value.

Put a call out for men and dads to join the ranks of your ministry, letting them know that their presence will make a positive impact.

Invite a dad to teach a segment of the lesson by bringing something from his workplace or a favorite hobby and then adapt it to a child’s level of understanding.

Pray for healing of the heart hurts in the children you work with while asking Father God to reveal His love in powerful ways through you.

Do dads matter? Absolutely!And if you’re ever in doubt, just remember that God says they do, and He’s using you to contribute to the building of a sturdy and strong child.